November 2022 – News

29th November

Blackett Science Lecture: The 18th Blackett Science Lecture was delivered by Dr. Rebecca Smethurst, RAS Research Fellow at Oxford University, to a large audience in the Ellis Theatre. Her lecture was entitled ‘It’s not easy growing a supermassive black hole’. Dr. Becky explained the basics of black hole science (they are sofas, not hoovers!) and then spoke about her research into how black holes increase in size. There is a large disconnect between merger and non merger growth, which is her area of continuing observational based research. Many excellent questions were asked at the end of the lecture, demonstrating how well Dr. Becky had engaged with the audience.

28th November

Outreach Visit: Five members of Marlborough Town Council and the North Wessex Downs AONB came to the Dome with GKWJ and JAG to celebrate the past success of the Marlborough Dark Skies Festival and to look forwards to future collaborations. Patchy cloud allowed opportunistic observation through large gaps. The session started outside to see the waxing crescent Moon, the line up of planets, the Pleiades and a suggestion of the Andromeda Galaxy. The group moved to the 10-inch to view the Moon in great detail, followed by Saturn with its moon, Titan, and then Jupiter with its 4 Galilean moons. Attention turned to the double star Almach and a fuzzy view of the Andromeda Galaxy’s core. The final target was Mars, with a polar ice cap and surface details just visible through variable cloud.

25th November

Outreach Event: GKWJ and JAG were invited to the North Wessex Downs AONB Annual Forum to run a stargazing event in the early evening at the Marlborough Golf Club to highlight the importance of dark skies across the region. A clearing and mostly dark sky provided perfect conditions for over 50 Forum delegates to enjoy a sky tour and views of the Pleiades (M45) through binoculars and Jupiter, Saturn and Mars through an ETX.

24th November

Shell Visit: In an unprecedented run of good fortune for the Shell Visits, predominantly clear skies welcomed the 12 boys from C3 with their tutor, DGR, up to the Dome. GKWJ started the visit outside by pointing out Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and the Pleiades. The group moved inside to the 10-inch to observe Saturn, with Titan visible, and Jupiter with all four Galilean moons visible. The group returned outside to enjoy a closer look at the Pleiades through binoculars and rising Betelgeuse through an ETX. The session ended with a quick look at the Campo meteorite.

Staff Visit: A member of staff with their two young children visited the Dome where GKWJ showed them Saturn and Jupiter through the 10-inch. All 4 of Jupiter’s Galilean moons were visible and at least one moon of Saturn was seen.

22nd November

Shell Visit: Ten Shell boys from C2 came to the Dome with their tutor to meet GKWJ. The session started with a view of M45 – The Pleiades by naked eye, with around 7 stars counted, followed by a view of the open cluster in binoculars, with many more stars visible. The group then observed Jupiter and its four Galilean moons through the 10-inch. Unfortunately, the broken clouds thickened and observing had to cease. The boys enjoyed a short slide show of astro-images and asked plenty of excellent questions.

19th November

Public Open Evening: Two observing sessions open to the public were held by GKWJ and JAG. Conditions were cloudy with some breaks in the cloud. Session One had 12 attendees (20 tickets were issued, but not all turned up) and sufficient gaps in the cloud allowed Jupiter to be observed in the 10-inch, with 3 Galilean moons clearly visible and the 4th moon, Io, in transit, with the moon’s shadow visible as a black dot on the planet’s disc. During the session, Io emerged from the side of the disc and the GRS rotated into view. Next was Mars, with some surface markings visible – the polar ice cap and Syrtis Major. The newly acquired Wetton Meteorite collection made its first public appearance, with a 1kg piece of the iron meteorite Campo del Cielo and a small slice through the meteorite to show its internal structure were studied by all. The second session consisted of 13 members of the public (out of 16 tickets issued) and 13 Friends, making for a full observatory! Unfortunately, the cloud was thickening, but Mars was glimpsed through occasional gaps. A slideshow of images taken at the Blackett Observatory was shown and again the Wetton meteorite collection, this time including a larger but lighter piece of a North West African (NWA) chondrite meteorite, generated much interest.

17th November

Friends Observing: A very uncertain forecast might have led to cancellation of the Leonid meteor shower observing session, but the decision was taken to open the Observatory to the Friends regardless. Six Friends joined GKWJ and JAG, despite deteriorating conditions, with just the brightest objects in the sky showing through the thickening hazy cloud. The group congregated in the warm room and followed the radio meteor detector live stream projected on the screen, in the hour from 22:00 to 23:00 UT, 20 meteors were seen – exactly the predicted rate. To accompany the meteor observing, the MCBO Wetton Meteorite Collection was unveiled as the four pieces of space rock were delivered to the Observatory by a Friend at this session. More details on the collection to follow.

Shell Visit: Predominantly clear skies welcomed the 11 Shell boys from C1 for their visit to the Blackett Observatory. GKWJ started the session outside, pointing out our own galaxy, the Milky Way, running through Cygnus and then using the 4″ refractor to spot a faint fuzzy blob almost overhead – M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest neighbouring galaxy. The group moved inside to observe first Saturn and three moons through the 10-inch, followed by Jupiter with its four Galilean moons visible and clear storm bands across the planet’s disc. Finally, the double star Albireo was admired with its contrasting gold and blue stars.

9th November

Outreach Visit: 21 Year 5 pupils from Woodborough Primary School, accompanied by their teacher, teaching assistant and two parents, visited the Observatory. The were some passing clouds, but the sky was essentially clear, which enabled GKWJ to slew the 10-inch first to Saturn, with four moons visible (Titan, Rhea, Dione and Tethys), then to Jupiter with its four Galilean Moons visible and finally to the 98% Waning Gibbous Moon. The group moved outside for a brief sky tour where The Plough was identified and the pointer stars were shown to point to Polaris. The session ended with a view of Mars as it emerged above a band of cloud on the eastern horizon.

Friends Trip: Sixteen Friends of the Marlborough Telescope, including GKWJ & JAG, visited The Herschel Museum at 17 New King Street in Bath where they were given a private tour of the exhibits. William Herschel’s observing notebooks were on display (thanks to the kind loan from the Royal Astronomical Society), including the entry from 13th March 1781, which reads: “… in the quartile near zeta Tauri the lowest of two is a curious rather nebulous star or perhaps a comet.”. This turned out to be the planet Uranus, perhaps Herschel’s most famous discovery. The visit ended in the back garden where the Herschels made their observations, with the group observing the Sun through a small Coronado PST hydrogen alpha telescope – surface granulation, multiple active regions and two prominences were clearly visible.

8th November

Shell Visit: The 12 Shell boys from Barton Hill were accompanied to the Dome by a member of the L6. The weather was partly cloudy. GKWJ introduced them to Astronomy at the Blackett Observatory and then a large gap in the cloud allowed the group to observe the Full Moon through the 10-inch, followed by Jupiter with its four Galilean Moons all lined up to one side of the planet.

7th November

Radcliffe Society: The second meeting of the Michaelmas term was held on a wet and cloudy night; consequently, the members enjoyed three pupil presentations: ‘Festivals and Celebrations to do with the Night Sky and other Astronomical Objects’, ‘Liquid Rocket Engines’ and ‘The James Webb Space Telescope’.

4th November

GCSE Observing: Six GCSE Hundred pupils joined GKWJ at the Dome. Conditions were not perfect, with some wispy cloud in the sky. Jupiter was observed in the 10-inch with all 4 Galilean moons visible and clear banding across the planet’s disc. Cloud started to encroach and the 10-inch was slewed to clear skies in the east, where Mars was observed as a bright orange disc, but with very little surface detail evident. Unfortunately, too much high cloud gathered and the session was cut short.

Outreach Visit: A relative of Sir Basil Blackett, the Observatory’s benefactor and namesake, visited with a family member, meeting GKWJ, who recounted details of the Observatory’s history. The sky was clear and the Sun was viewed in white light through the 10-inch; four active regions in the northern hemisphere were seen in beautiful detail. The purpose of the visit was to donate a collection of letters that Sir Basil’s first cousin, Frances Blackett, had written to family members recounting her 1927 visit to India to stay with Sir Basil. The letters will find a permanent home in the College archives.

2nd November

Outreach Talk: GKWJ and JAG delivered their talk ‘Cosmic Recycling’ to around 35 members of the WI Marlborough and guests in the Marlborough Town Hall.

1st November

Shell Visit: The first Shell visit of the academic year saw the 12 Shell boys from B1 and their tutor join GKWJ at the Dome. On arrival, there was broken cloud so immediately the First Quarter Moon was observed in an ETX. The cloud soon thickened and the tour moved inside. For the last part of the session the sky cleared, allowing a sky tour outside and Jupiter with 4 Galilean moons to be observed in the 10-inch. An excitable bunch asked many good questions and an excellent start was made to the Shell visit season.